I recently had the awesome experience of being a tourist in my own city by attending TBEX. For those unfamiliar with TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) it is an event that brings travel bloggers together from around the world. At each TBEX, bloggers (and travel professionals) meet in a new city to spend the week bonding with fellow wanderlusters, learning the tricks of the trade and exploring the host city, which was Huntsville, Alabama this time. As a local, I know that Huntsville is a cool, kind of weird, super nerdy place. I’m proud to call Huntsville my home, but let’s be honest it’s not known as a travel destination, so I image the TBEX attendees were a bit disappointed to be coming here of all places. (The last one was in Jerusalem and the next one is in Killarney!) I myself wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I have to say the City of Huntsville and the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor’s Bureau pulled out all the stops. It was truly a fun to experience a city I have lived in for over 10 years as a tourist.The started the conference by taking a photography workshop with Travelure’s Ajay Sood. It has been several years since I have been to the botanical gardens and I was surprised by all of the improvements. It was an excellent workshop and you can read about it here.
The evening after the workshop, I attended an event for speakers at Lowe Mill Arts Center. I felt extremely VIP and as I walked through the doors was handed a glass of wine and a token for free Piper & Leaf tea. Pizzelles Confections was giving out samples (and when I say samples I mean full-sized desserts) from their new pastry kitchen. On the second floor you could screen print your very own t-shirts with Green Pea Press and there were numerous dishes from every local genre you could imagine. There was even a giant cheese sculpture, but since I broke my camera phone (and can only do selfies) there is no photographic evidence.
There was local beer, local artists, local ice pops from Suzy’s Pops. Local bands entertained the crowds and artists happily gave tours of their studios. I spent the evening rubbing elbows with people far legit than I and it was amazing! It was also wonderful to see Lowe Mill through people who were new to the arts complex. I forgot what a unique place it is and how lucky we are to have it in a city of our size.
On Friday and Saturday speakers gave 45 minute talks about social media, travel blogging, making money, etc. I had to great opportunity to do a panel discussion about working with local markets and visitor’s bureaus. The panel was composed of the talented Rocket City Mom aka Stephenie Walker, Southern Plate aka Christy Jordan with the CVB’s talented Marketing Director Kristen Pepper. I’m typically comfortable talking to people, just ask my husband after he’s had to wait while I swap life stories with the cashier at the grocery store. But I got nervous at the last minutes before the talk. Because of my nerves, my numerous goals of being informative and charming, make a difference, have perfect hair, enunciating my words, etc. etc. got shortened to two goals: don’t swear and don’t vomit. It would have been just don’t puke, but while I was rehearsing I said something was ‘f___ing crazy’ (fill in the blanks) so I decided to make an extra effort to not swear like a sailor. I’m happy to say it was a mission accomplished. Damn, was I relieved.
The panel was actually a lot of fun and people were generous with their attention and asked insightful questions. Thank-you to all that attended! We gave one of the first talks of the day so I could enjoy the rest of the conference worry free. I gained SO much information and learned that I’m doing SO much wrong. Sigh. Oh well, at least I know what to work on. Later than evening I attended a get together at the Space and Rocket Center. More VIP treatment with excellent food, booze and a jazz band. Again, I take for granted what a cool place the rocket center is and it was fun to see people truly amazed to be sipping craft beer underneath a freakin’ full-sized rocket. I spent the evening catching up with some local bloggers whom I haven’t seen in forever. Sadly, Katie Actually is moving so it was nice to see her before she left us (sniff, whimper).
I also learned that Sweet T Makes Three blogger Jenn and I are sneaker sole mates. Get it sole mates. ha ha! At least I find myself funny even if no one else does. On the last day of the conference the keynote speaker was Samantha Brown, as in THE SAMANTHA BROWN. She was funny and brilliant and said all the things about travel that you know but can’t articulate. And she was kind enough to stand there as person after person got a picture with her.
The last night of TBEX was at Campus 805 and appropriately themed Back to School, retro field day activities, free beer, free food and the Fringe Saloon offering 1980s hair and makeup.
I was NOT going to get 80’s hair as that is ridiculous, but as I watched Katie get her hair crimped I thought what the hell… I mean heck. See swearing just comes naturally for me.
All gussied up we strutted around campus like the cool, 80s prom queens we never were. Well, I can’t speak for Katie, but in high school I was neither cool nor a prom queen. For the most part we blended with the other 80s hairstyles and people ignored us, but a few locals were very obviously staring while we ordered our beers. Finally one of them asked where we were from and when we said Huntsville he said the group thought we were Eastern European due to our hair and ordering dark brews. ha ha! Sorry to all Eastern European’s that have to endure that false stereotype.
At the end of the night we snuck into the Campus’s hidden Speak Easy for gin cocktails and enjoyable banter. I have to say, after attending TBEX I felt a real swell of pride of what my adopted city has grown into over the years. I often take Huntsville for granted as I’m sure many people do with their own cities. It is a city of smartypants. The phrase, “It’s not rocket science” makes no sense here because half the population are actually rocket scientists. I show up to a party and, with a master’s degree, can easily be the least educated person in the room. Huntsville children want to grow up to be mathematicians or Dr. Who and every day we drive past a Saturn 5 rocket without thinking twice. When you live in a place it grows so familiar that you cease to be amazed, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that can still surprise you. For me it took a group of wide-eyed travelers to see that Huntsville is in fact an extraordinary place with much more for me to experience.